An amendment to a bill currently being considered by the Senate would deny ordinary citizens doing vital investigations in the public interest the same legal protections as professional journalists. If it were to become law, the change could significantly stifle important citizen journalism efforts similar to the recent ACORN expose.
The Senate is currently considering a new press shield law sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. The bill would “maintain the free flow of information to the public by providing conditions for the federally compelled disclosure of information by certain persons connected with the news media.” Except that Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Cal., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., want to ensure that any new journalistic protections would only apply to professional journalists and not regular citizens. An amendment filed by Durbin and Feinstein would modify the legislation to define journalists thusly:
In section 10(2)(A), strike clause (iii) and insert the following:
(iii) obtains the information sought while working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for, an entity—
(I) that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, 1or other means; and
(aa) publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical;
(bb) operates a radio or television broadcast station, network, cable system, or satellite carrier, or a channel or programming service for any such station, network, system, or carrier;
(cc) operates a programming service; or
(dd) operates a news agency or wire service;
In section 10(2)(B), strike ‘‘and’’ at the end.
In section 10(2)(C), strike the period at the end and insert ‘‘; and’’.
In section 10(2), add at the end the following:
(D) does not include an individual who gathers or disseminates the protected information sought to be compelled anonymously or under a pseudonym.
While the ACORN story has stung congressional Democrats and pointed out the deficiencies of the mainstream media, there's no basis for Durbin and Feinstein's amendment that seems anything other than vindictive or an attempt to protect the powerful. It's telling that bloggers on both the left and the right are in total agreement this is very bad law.